published Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Former Chattanooga police chief says officer ‘unfit’

Former Police Chief Freeman Cooper walks out of the U.S. District Court building after he testified Monday.
Former Police Chief Freeman Cooper walks out of the U.S. District Court building after he testified Monday.
Photo by Jenna Walker.
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Former Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper testified in federal court Tuesday that he fired a former police officer because a city-retained psychologist deemed the man unfit for duty.

Cooper will resume testifying today, the third day of a U.S. District Court trial in which former officer Mickel Hoback claims Chattanooga wrongfully fired him because he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq.

Hoback is suing the city to get his job back with pay and benefits and $1.5 million in related damages from the termination.

Cooper, a Vietnam War veteran, said he was “alarmed and concerned” at initial reports that, on April 14, 2009, Bradley County sheriff’s deputies were looking for Hoback after a doctor had ordered he be committed to a veterans hospital as a suicide risk.

In testimony, Cooper said he called Hoback’s supervisor, who told him the officer had called in sick earlier that morning, saying he was being transported by ambulance to the hospital for bleeding of the brain.

“It scared me to death,” Cooper recalled.

He then put Hoback on administrative leave with pay and met with him when he returned to work two days later.

“It was my decision that someone else needed to make the evaluation before I let him be armed in the city of Chattanooga,” Cooper testified.

Hoback underwent an evaluation by Donald Brookshire, a psychologist hired by the city. Brookshire’s report deemed Hoback unfit for duty related to PTSD he’d sustained while serving with the Tennessee Army National Guard in Iraq.

Chattanooga officials discussed with Hoback other jobs he might take with the city, but Hoback wanted to remain a police officer.

In testimony Monday, Hoback disputed whether there were jobs available and that he was told he’d have to resign from the city and reapply for another job.

In July 2008, Cooper fired Hoback.

Phillip Lawrence, one of Hoback’s two attorneys, pointed out the Tennessee law that prevented people with a mental health condition from being police officers had been ruled a violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act years before Hoback was let go. In 2003, the Tennessee attorney general agreed not to enforce that portion of the state law.

But it was the overruled Tennessee law that determined part of his decision to fire Hoback, Cooper testified.

In earlier testimony Tuesday, Hoback’s Vet Center counselor Michael Bearden gave explanations of his counseling notes and said he never thought Hoback was a suicide risk or a danger to others.

Bearden testified that the doctor who had ordered Hoback to the vet hospital had a history of such choices, all of which were overruled by the head psychiatrist at the Murfreesboro, Tenn., facility.

Hoback was released the morning after his admittance to the hospital with a letter that stated he could return to previous activities. Doctors at the clinic determined he was not a suicide risk.

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about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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chioK_V said...

If an officer's mental or physical condition in anyway affects his or her ability to peform assigned duties or place fellow officers and citizens lives in danger, then that officer is unfit for duty. The profession should have their heads examined for continuing to knowingly hire these misfits in the first place. They already know they have serious psychological problems from the go, but will hire them anyway.

September 14, 2011 at 9:26 a.m.

chioK_V,,,The guy has been an officer for awhile i assume, he also stepped up and went to IRAQ. Did you read this part "Bearden testified that the doctor who had ordered Hoback to the vet hospital had a history of such choices, all of which were overruled by the head psychiatrist at the Murfreesboro, Tenn., facility." He should win his case and the ungrateful jerks that put him in this position should lose they're jobs. That won't happen because it envolves money and when the city is sued justice goes out the window to keep the city from paying up !

September 14, 2011 at 1:01 p.m.
fedup350 said...

It sounds to me like it was freeman cooper who was "unfit for duty".

September 14, 2011 at 1:45 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

PTSD is common among anyone in high-stress professions involving interpersonal conflict. Half the police force probably has it. If you want to see a medical condition that causes someone to be unfit for duty, try inspecting for obesity.

Just because a veteran has PTSD does not mean that it is a disabling or permanent condition. This set of decisions from CPD management sounds like more of an excuse to cut a veteran from the rolls.

There are many, many ways in which this situation could have been handled better. Not the least of which include having a reasonable means for all Chattanooga Police Officers to seek routine counseling over any problem.

The observably disabling condition which interfered with Officer Hoback's ability to perform his duties seem to be the bad judgement used by his supervisors in response to a common condition.

We look forward to the CPD weigh-in that would remove all obese personnel who are endangering the public by not being able to provide adequate cardiac fitness and aerobic exercise used during the apprehension of criminals. We look forward to seeing the leaders of the police department set the example for physical fitness by publishing their health and physical fitness reports annually.

No chinups? No donut. Thanks for more bad decisions in city government.

Keep it up, Hoback. All vets are pulling for you.

September 14, 2011 at 2:50 p.m.
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